Reducing Food Waste: Change Mindset to Eliminate Harm from ‘Age of Plenty’

The waste of still-edible food is a crucial issue for Japanese society, which heavily relies on imports for the food it consumes. It is hoped that the public will reaffirm the importance of food and accelerate efforts to reduce food waste.

In fiscal 2021, the total amount of food waste was estimated at 5.23 million tons, including that from food manufacturing, food service and other businesses as well as households. This is the first time in six years that the figure has increased from the previous fiscal year.

Fiscal 2021 was in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on activities reportedly made it difficult to forecast demand for food products, resulting in greater waste. Now that economic activities have returned to normal, food waste may be increasing further in tandem with the expansion of those activities.

Before the pandemic, 6.14 million tons of food is estimated to have been wasted on average from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019. The government has set a goal of halving food waste by fiscal 2030 from the 9.8 million tons seen in fiscal 2000, but it is essential to strengthen efforts to achieve this goal.

Food manufacturers and other businesses have reviewed their practice of possibly discarding food products after one-third of the time between production and the best-before date passes.

An increasing number of retailers now discount food products for which a certain period of time has passed since their production and sell seasonal items on a preorder basis.

In addition to such measures, there is also the issue of how to utilize surplus production by food manufacturers, unsold items at retail stores and products such as instant cup ramen and retort pouch foods, which are discarded after being returned to manufacturers. The government said it plans to increase efforts to promote donations of such food items to people in need.

One in nine children in Japan are said to live in poverty. Expanding food donations can be expected to not only reduce food waste but also help support disadvantaged families.

Efforts to donate discarded food and take home leftovers when eating out have not spread sufficiently. This is said to be attributable to concerns that manufacturers and restaurant operators would be held liable in the event of accidents such as food poisoning, which would harm sales and customer traffic.

Isn’t it necessary for manufacturers and restaurant operators to change their mindset that discarding food is less risky than donating it? Shouldn’t consumers also change their excessive ideas about food safety?

Food waste continued to grow during the high economic growth period when consumption was considered a virtue, as well as during the bubble economy.

Heinous acts of mishandling food, such the posting on social media of a video in which a customer put saliva on products at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, are apparently a typical example of the “age of plenty.”

When looking at the situation in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, which have been plagued by food shortages, one cannot help but see such an incident as an international embarrassment. It is hoped that society as a whole will feel grateful for food and be aware of the need not to produce nor buy it excessively.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 14, 2024)